Russ Sainz went skydiving for the third time on Nov. 5, 1972. He was 23 years old. Little did he know the jump would be his last.
Sainz was jumping at an altitude of 3,000 feet, which is about five times the height of the St. Louis Arch. Sainz’s plane took off from Hunter Field, a small airport in Sparta, Illinois.
Sainz did not tell his parents that he was sport jumping and his younger brother, Rob Sainz, knew he was doing it, but he didn’t know how often.
“My father was angry with me because I didn’t tell him,” Rob Sainz said. “It didn’t have anything to do with me. If he wanted to do that it was fine with me.”
Russ Sainz was using a static line, meaning he was jumping by himself. A static line opens a pouch on the jumper’s backpack that lets out the pilot chute, which is a small parachute that pulls the rest of the main parachute out of the backpack.
On Sainz’s third time, the pilot chute came out, but the main parachute had a line over malfunction, which allows one side of the chute to push forward over itself. Line over malfunctions are most commonly due to packing errors.
“It sounded like it was the fault of the sport jumping place because they didn’t repack his parachute correctly,” Rob Sainz said.
Russ Sainz required a 35-foot chute. The sport jumping place that he went to this time only had one 35-foot chute, so it was re-packed more often.
Russ Sainz grabbed the reserve parachute to throw it out in the direction that he was spinning. He threw it, but it collapsed around the lines of the main parachute.
“Then I knew I was in trouble,” Russ Sainz said.
At that point, everyone at the airport was watching him. The jumpmaster came running out of the hanger and yelled at Russ Sainz to put his feet together, ultimately saving his life.
“What are these people thinking watching the last few moments of my life?” Russ Sainz said.
He suffered a compression fracture in his first lumbar vertebrae, which is located in the lower back. After spending two months in a full body cast, it took about six months for Russ Sainz to fully recover. He is doing well today.
“It’s a lot of fun when it works,” Russ Sainz said.